"The piano keys are black and white but they sound like a million colors in your mind."

wiki ~ Maria Christina Mena

In a nutshell. The piano we have today encompasses a couple of thousand years of tuning evolutions coupled with an incredibly creative way to create a musical tone; with a string and a hammer. Spanning multiple octaves and tuned so that all these pitches are equally capable to create music, the piano sets a musical standard that many love to gather round, tell their stories in song. If you're just starting out learning this remarkable instrument, learn of its histories too and begin a fascinating journey through time.

wiki ~ the piano

A first task ~ 'two / three' pattern. First task here is to recognize the repeating black key pattern of ' two / three.' All the way up and down the keyboard. Ex. 1.

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Cool? This pattern is set in stone and goes all the way back for deigning the keyboard manual. With this repetition, our pitches form into a perfectly closed loop of pitches, letter names, notes etc.

Next task / letter name of each key. Once we know this pattern, we can easily fill in the loop of letter names for each pitch / key. Rote learn that each of the white keys gets a single letter name, while the black keys each get two. Super rote learn the letter names of the piano keys, do it once here and now and you'll own them forevermore. Example 2.

Cool? These letter names are set in stone on the piano and go all the way back. Rule of thumb; there's always a 'C' note to left of the pair of black keys, always :)

The 'set in stone' location of the half steps. So, our 'set in stone' two / three pattern of black keys creates spots where there are two white keys right are next to one another. This creates a half step interval, our smallest measure of distance between two notes. Locate them here and at your piano. Example 3.

Cool? Again, these letter names are set in stone on the piano and go all the way back. So these two half steps are set in stone and on the piano, have been now for quite a while. Rote learn their positions.

Next task, the sustain pedal. Most pianos have a sustain pedal. That when engaged, lets struck keys / notes sustain. If your piano has one, try it out and how it works. If you have three like this, the sustain pedal is the one on the right. Example 4.

wiki ~ piano pedals

Next task, a first melody. In this next idea use the pitches and find a rhythm to make yourself a melody. Also note there's a fingering pattern here, that the fist and fourth notes are sounded with the thumb. And while not set in stone, this fingering and move is what I learned at music school. The 'T' is thumb, 'I' is index, 'M' is the middle finger, 'R' is for the ring and 'P' is for the pinky. The trick here is to play the first three notes, then move the thumb 'under' to get the fourth note, and the rest of the pitches follow in order. we create a melody with the pitches of the 'C' major scale. Example 5.

Right hand, flip it on over. In this next idea we use the same pitches and jazz up the rhythms a bit. In descending with these pitches, we need to 'ring finger 'over' to complete the scale. Example 5a.

Cool ? Run it up and down a few times to lock in the hand motion. This'll be the basis when you begin to move to the other key centers.

Left hand, middle over. Use these above moves to sort out the basic fingering for the left hand, for an ascending 'C' major scale. Example 5b.

Left hand, thumb under. Use these above moves to sort out the basic fingering for the left hand, for a descending 'C' major scale. Example 5c.

Both hands together. Use these above moves to sort out the basic fingering for the left hand, for an ascending 'C' major scale. Example 5b.

Cool ? Master this lick and fingering and join the countless others who know of this magic. It'll take some doing, for there's a lot of 'synchronicity' happening here. Be patient, slow it way down and it'll happen.

For the natural minor. Use these above finger moves to sort out the basic fingering for sounding out the pitches of an ascending 'A' natural minor scale. Work each hand alone, then combine the two. Example 5c.

And doesn't the fingering look familiar? Cool, for it is. There's just a ton of magic in these paired major / minor 'relatives.' Plus there's all the modes too, of which these two scales are Ionian / major and Aeolian for minor. Each pair sharing the same pitches for each of our 12 relative major / minor paired key centers.

Building up some triads. Now with a bit of both hands working together, lets look at the diatonic triads. Using all of the same white keys, we can sound a bass note with the left hand and play each three note triad with the right hand. Let's do the minor triads first this time, so thinking in 'A' minor here. Example 6.

Using the same fingers for each of the chords? Just moving the one 'thumb / middle / pinky' shape up 'stepwise?' Cool, that's probably the most common way. For the left hand bass line? That can be tricky, find your own best way. And remember, we have the sustain pedal to smooth things out.

The 'C' major triads. This could very well look quite familiar. Same pitches and fingerings mostly, just starting on different keys to work the magic. Example 6a.

Cool huh ? Ready to learn a song or two ? Give it a try with songs included in this text. Did you figure out what the Roman numerals designate ? It's just one way we theory scientists keep tack of the whole tamale.

Learn a song. 'Chopsticks' is probably the first song most piano players come across as they begin their studies. Here's just the opening phrase. Begin to learn it here if need be. Example 7.

Cool ? There's more to this song, but this first phrase is a keeper and gets all the parts; hands, head and heart, synced up and moving together, turning the pitches into a well known melody moving through time.

Hanon. For those readers / pianists here that are looking for a classical approach to the piano, the 'Hanon' has been the canon for a century or so now of dedicated piano players. And with the basics on this page, and finding a mentor to answer questions that will come up along the way, you'll find your own ways of making musical art on this remarkable instrument.

 

wiki ~ C. F. Hanon

Review. The piano is an instrument capable of playing scales, arpeggios and chords, in any rhythm, with a varying soft / loud dynamics. Beyond remarkable really, and an easy 500 years or so in its evolutions, once we conquered the tuning, by equal tempering the pitches, all 12 pitches become tonic pitches. Each supporting its very own key center and everything included.

All of us should learn a bit of piano really, as it lays out the pitches and theory in a linear view that often clarifies by simple proximity, the relationship between pitches, the intervals, scales, arpeggios and chords.

Even just mastering a bit of 'C' major / 'A' minor, gets us a ways up the road. And if we're on a new fangled, digital wizard's piano, there's often a button that'll 'modulate' the beast to any key center. For surely a 'jazzy 'Mr. Whitekeys' can stay very busy in show biz with just these basic keys. And the black keys ? Yep they're the Americana spice that makes Americana Americana :) The blue notes ? Yep, in relation to the white keys, the black keys bring us the blues rub and into the beyond.

"What is remarkable about Western music is that by its chosen scales, modified through equal temperament, and by developing complex forms and complex instruments, it has raised the expressive power of music to heights and depths unattained in other cultures."

wiki ~ Jacques Barzun

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Footnotes:

(1) Appel, Willie and Ralph T. Daniel. The Harvard Brief Dictionary Of Music. New York: Pocket Books, a Simon and Schuster Division of Gulf and Western, 1960

(2) Ottman, Robert. Elementary Harmony, Second Edition, p. 4-7. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

(3) Isacoff, Stuart. Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle, p. 210. U.S.A. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001

(4) To find "middle C", sit at the middle of the piano, extend both your arms outward to touch the furthest keys you can, then bend from the waist and bring your nose to gently touch the keys. The closest "C" is probably "middle C."